There are approximately 1.7 million homeless teens in the U.S.
When one Goodyear man learned hundreds of those teens were living in his own back yard, he decided to get to work educating adults about the issue, and helping those teens focus on finishing their education.
"I think a lot of times people think, ‘Oh, well he's homeless he must be a druggie.' But most of the time it's not that way," said Chris Clements, a former homeless teen.
Clements was living at a church in a trailer with no heat, when he reached out to Homeless Youth Connection for help.
"They helped me out with eating when my paycheck has been too small, because I work at a pizza place," he said about the organization.
Larry Cervarich is the founder and director of HYC.
"We don't go out into the community looking for homeless children. We work directly with the high schools," he said.
Cervarich came out of retirement and founded HYC four years ago after reading about the growing number of homeless teens in the West Valley in the local newspaper.
He said, "In the adult world they think they're old enough to be on their own, so if the adult family has problems and want to leave, they feel if they leave the child behind they can fend for themselves and they're not ready yet. They're not ready for that world."
With the help of generous donors and a community of volunteers Cervarich has set up shop in Goodyear where HYC serves as a resource for homeless teens.
"We really want to make sure that child has everything they can get to be normal like everybody else in high school, and get their education."
The center provides, among other things, free basic necessities like toiletries and clothes, even brand new bikes with the goal of keeping the teens in school and focused on the future.
"They're proud," he said of the teens they've helped. "They don't like to advertise that they're homeless. They're not wearing a sign on them saying I'm a homeless child."
Chris has flourished with the help of the organization. He is set to graduate this spring, and is looking forward to perhaps a career in the military.
His message to other homeless teens is to stay positive.
"One, they're not alone. Two, there's always someone out there to help them if they're willing to help themselves."
Homeless Youth Center is privately funded through donations and a series of fundraising events. It's currently collecting dresses for teens to wear to their spring prom.
Wednesday, July 23 2014 7:06 AM EDT2014-07-23 11:06:51 GMT
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